Success in College Hinges on Sleep, a New Study Says

Sleep deprived students jeopardize their grades and their ability to cope with pressures, The New York Times reports.

 Image courtesy of belchonock/ Getty Images 

From all-nighters spent cramming for exams to social outings that last into the wee hours, college students are perilously exhausted, and their academic performance is suffering for it, a new study found.

“Many college-bound kids start out with dreadful sleep habits that are likely to get worse once the rigorous demands of college courses and competing social and athletic activities kick in,” wrote health columnist Jane Brody in the New York Times this weekend. There’s no question that college campuses are filled with sleep-deprived students, and according to new research, the epidemic is more detrimental than you’d think.

In a recent study conducted at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, researchers Monica Hartmann, Ph.D., and J. Roxanne Prichard, Ph.D., looked at the sleep habits of over 55,000 college students, finding that academic performance and ability to handle their chosen course load is dramatically jeopardized when a student is sleep-deprived. “An all-nighter may help if all you have to do is memorize a list, but if you have to do something complex with the information, you’ll do worse by staying up all night,” Prichard told Brody. “After being awake 16 hours in a row, brain function starts to decline, and after 20 hours awake, you perform as if legally drunk,” she explained.

The study found that for each additional day of sleep disturbance the college students experienced, the likelihood of dropping a course rose by 10 percent and GPAs dropped accordingly. According to Prichard, when your body lacks a sufficient amount of sleep, one in 20 genes governed by the circadian rhythm gets knocked out of whack, preventing your brain from performing adequately, and thus, limiting students from reaching their academic potential.

The fix? Practicing good “sleep hygiene,” according to Prichard. Getting a restful night of sleep isn’t as easy as it sounds when you have other distractions and deadlines in mind, so Prichard teamed up with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to compile a list of helpful tips.

“Go to bed and get up every day at approximately the same time,” Prichard suggests, “Weekends included.” By getting yourself into a routine, you’ll find yourself more inclined to stick to a reasonable bedtime, even on nights where you have other options. Other tips include creating a relaxing bedtime setting, keeping electronics outside of the bedroom (which we’re big fans of here at Thrive Global), and reading or meditating for a few moments before bed.

And finally, think about what’s really making you skimp on sleep. It’s okay to cut out a few responsibilities if your performance and overall health is being compromised, Prichard advises. “If your outside activities are too time-consuming, try to cut back on those that are expendable,” she says.

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